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One reason why Andy Reid is sticking with Michael Vick is because the quarterback has actually shown real improvement in a couple key areas.
Most notably, against the blitz.
In the first three games, teams killed the Eagles with extra pressure. The offense had breakdowns in protection, Vick held on to the ball, receivers ran routes way downfield. Overall, it was a disaster.
But in the last three games (while the offense has still had plenty of issues), the Eagles have done damage against the blitz. Just look at the numbers. Vick is 29-for-42 for 405 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions against extra pressure. That’s a 69 percent completion percentage and 9.6 yards-per-attempt.
If you’re a glass-half-full kind of fan (c’mon, there has to be one or two of you out there), this is something to be optimistic about looking ahead to the final 10 games.
Since the Eagles were on bye last week, there’s no new All-22 to break down. So instead, let’s take a look at some of the ways the offense has beaten the blitz in the last few weeks.
Play 1: Here, the Lions show blitz at the line of scrimmage. It’s 3rd-and-6, and they’re going to bring seven rushers, including the slot corner.
The Eagles are in a 1-RB, 4-WR set with no tight ends on the field. That means they lose the numbers game up front. It’s six blockers against seven defenders. Someone is going to be unaccounted for. But everyone executes their one-on-one blocks.
Here you see the linebacker rush unblocked between Danny Watkins and Todd Herremans. But again, that’s nobody’s fault. It’s on Vick here to get rid of the ball quickly.
The routes are key too. You’ll notice three of the four receivers are running short or intermediate routes. Vick actually has multiple options.
The key is getting rid of the ball before the unblocked rusher gets home. Vick does that, stands in the pocket, fires a strike to Riley Cooper for 8 yards and takes a hit, allowing the Eagles to extend their drive.
Play 2: Those 8-yard gains are nice. But good offenses burn teams with big plays when they blitz. Here, the Lions send safety Louis Delmas. The key to blocking him is going to be running back Bryce Brown, who has to first recognize the blitz and then get to Delmas across the formation.
The other key is the throw. As we showed last week, there are times when Vick is making good reads and good decisions. He’s just misfiring. Here, he throws a beauty. Check out what the coverage looks like when Vick gets rid of the ball.
The pass has to hit Jackson in stride, but also has to angle towards the sideline so that the safety can’t get there in time. Here, you can see the window Vick is working with. The result is a 30-yard completion and one of his best throws of the day.
Play 3: Big plays don’t always have to mean deep throws downfield. The key to the next play starts before the ball is even snapped. Jackson starts in the backfield to Vick’s right, but then motions out to the left.
Cornerback Ike Taylor goes with Jackson, signaling man coverage. The Eagles set up a bunch look. They’ve had some success in the past few weeks hitting on big plays out of the bunch (like Jeremy Maclin’s 70-yard touchdown last week).
Of course, since the Steelers were rushing six at Vick, protection too was key. As you can see below, the offensive line did an outstanding job. And most importantly, LeSean McCoy, who was charged with blocking James Harrison, takes his man to the ground, giving Vick plenty of time to find Jackson.
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AGAINST THE BLITZ
The Browns sent extra pressure on 18 of Vick’s 61 dropbacks, or 29.5 percent of the time. Against the blitz, Vick was 7-for-17 for 145 yards (41.2 completion percentage, 8.5 yards per attempt). Against four rushers or fewer, he was 22-for-39 for 172 yards. Both touchdowns, one sack and all four interceptions came against four rushers or fewer.
Here’s a look at how Vick performed against different numbers of rushers:
Number Of Rushers
There’s a tiny morsel of encouraging news in those numbers. Vick averaged 8.5 yards per attempt against extra pressure. The key to getting defenses to think twice about blitzing is to burn them with big plays. Vick only completed 41.2 percent of his passes against extra pressure, but at least he picked up big chunks of yardage on some of the completions.
Pay special attention to Vick’s performance against five rushers (5-for-14, 122 yards last week). In 2011, the Ravens rushed five 28.2 percent of the time, fifth-most in the league, according to Football Outsiders. Vick will face just one extra rusher often on Sunday. He, Jason Kelce and the rest of the offense will need to identify where the pressure is coming from. Often times last week, it was from the edge. And that will likely continue against Baltimore.
I mentioned in yesterday’s cheat sheet that Andy Dalton had success with quick screens against the Ravens’ blitz. Here’s one example with the All-22 footage, starting with what the defense looks like pre-snap.
The Ravens have seven defenders at the line of scrimmage. The circled receiver is Andrew Hawkins. He was originally lined up in the slot to the right side, but Dalton motioned him to the left, perhaps sensing that’s where the pressure was coming from. He also had another receiver to that side, which would help to block for the eventual screen.
Leaving unblocked defenders is not always a bad thing. Here, the Bengals run a quick play-fake, but they (on purpose) allow three defenders from Dalton’s back-side to rush unblocked.
The arrow points to two of those defenders. The third one I mentioned fell for the play-fake and attacked the ball-carrier. The Bengals offensive linemen, meanwhile, hustled downfield to set up blocks.
As you can see, Hawkins had plenty of running room, and the Bengals had the Ravens defenders out-numbered. The pass was made behind the line of scrimmage, but this turned out to be a 27-yard gain, the Bengals’ longest of the day. Don’t be surprised if the Eagles use these quick wide receiver screens Sunday.
A couple people asked me on Twitter to chart Vick’s throws when the Eagles used any type of play-fake to the running backs last week. Overall, the Eagles used a play-fake on 19 of 61 dropbacks, or 31.1 percent of the time. In those situations, Vick was just 7-for-16 for 79 yards and a pair of interceptions. Both his sacks also came off play-action. And he also had an 11-yard scramble.
There are a couple reasons the Eagles use play-action. Opposing defenses play their safeties deep to protect against big plays from DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. Fakes to LeSean McCoy can get them to inch up. They can also get linebackers to bite and open up the middle of the field for Jason Avant and Brent Celek.
Play-action also gets Vick deep into his drops, which offensive line coach Howard Mudd said back at training is important.
“The only thing that we really stress is the depth of the pocket,” Mudd said. “Because Mike isn’t really tall, so when he gets to his throwing spot, the more separation you can have between the original line and Mike is really important so that he feels, oh, there’s a bunch of space here. I can see, I can deliver, take off if you want.”
But there’s also a downside. In the past two years, Vick has worked to identify what he’s seeing pre-snap. Turning his back to the defense for a second or two delays Vick from going through his reads. That might mean having a defender in his face or sensing false pressure and taking off to run. It might also mean losing track of a defender and making a bad throw.
That appeared to be the case last week on the pick-six to Browns linebacker D’Qwell Jackson. The Eagles ran a play-fake, and while Jackson paused for a split-second, he was able to get back in his drop quick enough to make the interception.
“We were in Cover-2, and Vick not being the tallest of quarterback, he loses zone droppers occasionally,” Jackson told reporters after the game.
When the Eagles ran no play-fake at all last week, Vick was 22-for-40 for 238 yards (55 percent completions, 5.95 YPA). Not great numbers, but better than what he produced with the play-fakes (43.8 percent, 4.9 YPA).
It’ll be interesting to see how often the Eagles try to get Ray Lewis and the other Ravens defenders to bite on Sunday. Or if they reduce the number of play-fakes after Week 1.
* Michael Vick had an extremely rough go. He went 29-for-56 for 317 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions. But with 6:25 left in the fourth, he engineered a 16-play, 91-yard drive that ended with a 4-yard touchdown to Clay Harbor. It wasn’t even close to being a good enough outing, but the Birds somehow escaped with a 17-16 win.
* The offensive line had a rough time too. Vick was under constant pressure, especially early. He was sacked twice, but hit 11 times. King Dunlap, Evan Mathis, Jason Kelce and Danny Watkins were all called for holding penalties. Mathis added a false start in the fourth quarter.
* Vick threw a bad first-half interception, scrambling to his left and throwing across his body. He started off 6-for-6 and then struggled for much of the first half before connecting with Jeremy Maclin on a pair of passes at the end of the second quarter. One was a beautiful 46-yard toss down the left sideline. The next was an 18-yard bullet in the end zone. Vick’s fourth-quarter interception was returned for a touchdown by Browns linebacker D’Qwell Jackson.
* Maclin had seven catches for 96 yards and a touchdown. DeSean Jackson had four catches for 77 yards. Jackson did a good job of breaking up a possible interception in the fourth. Brent Celek had four catches for 65 yards.
* LeSean McCoy had 20 carries for 110 yards. The Eagles called 60 pass plays and 23 runs, which was dumbfounding when you consider how much Vick and the offensive line struggled.
* McCoy fumbled on his first carry. He had one fumble all of last season (273 carries).
* Vick slid a couple times in the first half. The only problem? He went head-first. On the final drive, on 3rd-and-10, he fought for the first down and took a big hit.
* Vick and Jason Kelce had a fumbled snap, but the Eagles recovered.
* Demetress Bell went from being the starter at left tackle in the preseason opener to not even dressing today He was inactive, and rookie Dennis Kelly was the backup.
* A collision between McCoy and Sheldon Brown knocked the former Eagle out of the game with a shoulder injury.
* Kurt Coleman came up big with a pair of interceptions. One came in the first half after Nate Allen broke up a pass intended for wide receiver Greg Little. The second ended the game late in the fourth quarter.
* Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie also had a pair of picks. He ran step-for-step with Travis Benjamin and came down with an interception. He had a second interception in the third quarter.
* DeMeco Ryans looked really good, leading the Eagles with five tackles, including one for loss.
* Jason Babin made a couple of nice plays against the run and also had the team’s first sack. On the flip side, Babin lined up offsides, negating a Trent Cole sack in the first. The Eagles finished with 12 penalties for 110 yards.
* Nnamdi Asomugha was beat on a 24-yard slant by Mohamed Massaquoi early, but played well after that. He made a tackle downfield after a 35-yard gain on a reverse by Benjamin. He also broke up a couple slants.
* The first-team defensive line was Babin, Cullen Jenkins, Derek Landri and Cole. The second team was Phillip Hunt, Fletcher Cox, Cedric Thornton and Darryl Tapp. Brandon Graham also mixed in. Cox had his first career sack.
* Ryans and Mychal Kendricks stayed on the field in nickel. It looked like Brian Rolle was used as the lone linebacker in certain dime packages.
* Akeem Jordan had a strong game on special teams.
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Here’s a player-by-player breakdown of how the Eagles’ offense performed Monday night, after having re-watched the game. Check out the linebacker review here, the defensive line review here and the defensive back review here.
Michael Vick – Lasted just six plays before leaving the game with a rib injury. Vick was 1-for-3 for 5 yards. He also ran once for 5 yards and slid awkwardly, going head-first and barely missing a knee to the helmet by Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes. Vick misfired to Jason Avant on third down, but it looked like Avant was covered anyway. We may not see the starting quarterback again until Week 1 in Cleveland.
Nick Foles – There was a lot to like about his performance. The one thing that stood out was he’s willing to stand in the pocket, deliver the football and absorb hits. On Foles’ first pass attempt, he hit LeSean McCoy for 8 yards, but took a hit from Chandler Jones. Later, he took a huge, blind-side hit (a flag was thrown) from Jake Bequette, but stood in the face of some pressure on the next play and connected with Clay Harbor for 14 yards. Two other things: He fit the ball into tight windows, and he can throw on the move. Foles delivered a beauty to DeSean Jackson in the red zone, squeezing the ball in between two Patriots defenders and targeting Jackson low so that he could avoid a big hit. He threw Brent Celek open, even though the tight end looked to be covered initially. And he made nice throws on both touchdowns to Harbor – one while rolling to his right, the other in a perfect place so that the defender couldn’t get his hand on it.
Was Foles perfect? Of course not. He was nearly intercepted on a throw to the sideline in the first half, and he was picked off at the end of the second quarter. But overall, he looked comfortable and confident. Good signs for a rookie QB.
Trent Edwards – Can’t say I watched him closely. Edwards entered the game in the fourth and went 6-for-11 for 59 yards. With Vick and Mike Kafka injured, he’ll see the field plenty in the next two weeks.
LeSean McCoy – He looked fine with seven carries for 30 yards and a touchdown, along with two catches for 12. I’m not so sure I would have played him as much as Andy Reid did, but perhaps McCoy will sit in the final two games. As a blocker, he pretty much whiffed on Jermaine Cunningham on a third down. Later, though, McCoy had a nice blitz pickup on Foles’ 24-yard run. He and Foles had a fumbled exchange in the third.
Dion Lewis – Did not get a lot of work – three carries for 9 yards. Lewis broke a tackle on one run, turning what would have been a loss into a 4-yard gain. He should play a lot in the final two games.
Stanley Havili – He did pretty much everything he could to stake claim on the fullback job. Havili had a nice 14-yard run up the middle on the fake toss to McCoy to set up the first touchdown. Note that he started the play lined up on the right side between Todd Herremans and Avant. Good-looking play and execution. Havili did a solid job as a lead blocker on McCoy’s touchdown run. And he delivered a big-time hit in punt coverage in the second quarter. The Eagles could still add a fullback in the coming weeks, but it’s very possible that they go with Havili.
Emil Igwenagu – Didn’t get into the game until the fourth quarter. It’d be an upset in my eyes if he made the roster at this point.
Bryce Brown – Had a couple really good-looking runs late. Brown carried nine times for 51 yards, including a 27-yard scamper up the middle in the third. Brown also had two catches for 16 yards. Don’t see the Eagles letting him get away when they cut down to 53.
Chris Polk – Had four carries for 11 yards. Good, tough run to pick up a first on 3rd-and-1 in the fourth. Doesn’t look like there’s going to be a spot for him though.
DeSean Jackson – He finished as the game’s leading receiver with four catches for 82 yards. Nice catch and run on a crossing pattern for 15 yards in the first. Jackson made an 11-yard grab at the 2-yard-line to set up the Eagles’ second touchdown. Remember, he only had two red-zone catches all of last year. He had a 16-yard grab in the third and made a nice play on the ball for a 40-yard pickup. As Jon Gruden pointed out, Jackson should have done a better job of coming back to the football when Foles broke the pocket, threw his way and was nearly picked off. Jackson hustled to make a tackle after the Foles interception and taunted Patriots defender Nate Ebner afterwards. Always entertaining, that No. 10.
Jeremy Maclin – Quiet game. His one catch for 15 yards came in the third quarter.
Jason Avant – One catch for Avant too. He made a nice adjustment on the ball over the middle at the end of the first half.
Damaris Johnson – Not an especially good showing for the rookie. He fumbled the first punt, before picking it back up. And Johnson dropped a slant for the second straight week; this time, it was on third down. He finished with one catch for 23 yards.
Chad Hall – He came in with the second team and had three catches for 26 yards, including a nice 15-yard grab over the middle in the fourth.
Marvin McNutt – Was not targeted. Good effort blocking on a Brown run, but he was called for holding.
Brent Celek – I’ve seen some criticize him for his blocking on the play where Vick was injured. But Celek actually did a decent job on the play. Nearly five seconds elapsed from the time the ball was snapped to when Cunningham hit Vick. And the hit occurred 16 yards behind the line of scrimmage. That’s not on Celek. On McCoy’s touchdown run, he had a nice block on the safety. And Celek was initially covered, but did a good job of working to get open on a 13-yard gain in the third.
Clay Harbor – Good game from Harbor. Six targets, six catches, 30 yards and two touchdowns. Nice job of keeping his feet in bounds on the first score. As a blocker, he did a good job on McCoy’s 5-yard run in the first. Harbor lined up in the slot to the right and made a nice block on McCoy’s 9-yard run. Has really had a strong camp and preseason.
King Dunlap – He had some issues, but overall played pretty well. On an early running play, Dunlap did a good job shoving the DE out of the way, but he stumbled and fell to the ground as he made his way to the linebacker. He blocked first-round pick Chandler Jones one-on-one effectively, with a couple exceptions. Jones got past him and hit Foles on his first pass attempt. And Jones pressured Foles in the second, but a Patriots defensive back was whistled for a flag. Dunlap was called for a false start in the second. Overall, expect him to stay at left tackle with the first team – for now.
Evan Mathis – We’ve already discussed the play where Vick got injured. Mathis thought he had help from Jason Kelce, and Kyle Love got past him. To Mathis’ credit, he hustled back and held Love to keep him away from the quarterback. It’s the preseason – take the penalty and protect Vick. Of course, the refs didn’t throw the flag, and Cunningham ended up being the one who hit Vick from the other side. Later in the game, Mathis was slow to pick up a blitzer on 3rd-and-1, but Foles escaped and ran for 24 yards. In the run game, he did a good job getting to the linebacker on Havili’s 14-yard run.
Jason Kelce – Other than a 15-yard penalty for shoving a Patriots defender after the whistle had blown, Kelce played well. Good job on McCoy’s 5-yard run in the first. And nice block, creating space for Havili’s 14-yard run. Didn’t see any issues in pass protection.
Danny Watkins – The second-year player, on the other hand, had some issues in pass protection. Watkins had trouble with Ron Brace, who nearly sacked Foles and forced an incompletion on third down. Watkins was asked to pull and block the right defensive end/outside linebacker multiple times on play-action passes. He was effective on a couple and slow to get there on others. Watkins got beat by Brandon Deaderick on the shovel pass to Harbor in the third that was called back for a holding penalty. He showed his strength in pass protection early on, shoving Spikes to the ground in the first. Not quite out of the valley of darkness just yet.
Todd Herremans – See the Celek notes above if you’re wondering about Herremans’ responsibility on the Cunningham hit on Vick. Again, not really his fault. I’ve noticed offensive linemen seemingly take advantage of the replacement refs with how they use their hands. Herremans had trouble with defensive end Trevor Scott in protection and grabbed him by his facemask in the second, but the refs missed it. In the run game, Herremans did a good Jason Peters impression on McCoy’s 9-yard run in the second, shoving the DE upfield and getting to the second level. He also did a good job on McCoy’s touchdown run around the right side.
Demetress Bell – He doesn’t look comfortable to me. Bell entered the game at the start of the third and had trouble in pass protection on Foles’ completion to Maclin. On another play, he got beat by Bequette, but then recovered as Foles stepped up. Bell did not do an effective job of shoving Bequette upfield on a Lewis run in the third. He got beat by Bequette around the edge in the fourth and was called for a false start (might have been two) and a holding penalty. Bell was slow to get off the ball on a Brown run that lost 2 yards in the fourth. If I had to put down a wager right now, I’d say he is on the bench in Week 1.
** Don’t have a lot on the offensive line backups. But here’s what the second-team looked like from left to right: Bell, Julian Vandervelde, Steve Vallos, Dallas Reynolds and Dennis Kelly. Vallos at center ahead of Reynolds and Vandervelde was a bit of a surprise. Kelly had his share of issues in pass protection. And Vandervelde played better than last week.
Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If the whole quarterbacking thing doesn’t work out, Michael Vick may be able to gain employment at Modell’s.
Funny video embedded below, as Vick goes undercover to promote his new clothing line. Enjoy.
Training camp in Bethlehem has a most isolated feel, but Eagles coaches and players are certainly aware of the seismic news rumbling out of Penn State.
“It’s sad that certain people have to suffer in that situation,” said Michael Vick. “But the punishment that was imposed was imposed for a reason. Hopefully society will learn from this, and in years to come Penn State can bounce back. But as of right now they definitely have to deal with the verdict that was handed down.”
Tight end Brett Brackett, a Penn State alum who has been forced to answer question after question about the scandal since being signed by the Eagles last year, was informed of the ruling as he was walking off the Lehigh practice fields Monday morning. Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg ducked into the reporter circle as the laundry list of sanctions was being listed – a $60 million fine, a four-year postseason ban, loss of scholarships and wins – and walked away with a, “Wow.”
“Our thoughts and prayers are still with the victims who are healing and recovering from what went down, that’s where I’m at right now,” said Brackett. When asked about the tearing down of the Joe Paterno statue, Brackett responded, “The statue is an inanimate object. These people are real people that were affected. And if that’s going to help them with their grieving process and that’s going to be something positive to move forward with their lives, then so be it.”
You can follow Tim McManus on Twitter and email him at email@example.com.